Food for Thought

Some old friends meet for dinner at a restaurant.  They scan the menu, place their orders, and exchange stories while they wait for their meals.  A server comes to the table with all but one of their plates and walks away, presumably to get the last plate from the kitchen.  The group politely sits in front of their steaming, fragrant dishes waiting for everyone to be served before beginning to eat.  A considerable length of time passes, and the server still hasn’t returned.  The friend without food, we’ll call him Joshua, takes an exasperated sigh and states, “Man, I’m hungry. I wish I had my food.”

Joshua’s friend gazes longingly at his own congealing, untouched meal, and says, “Look, we’re all hungry.”  Joshua replies, “Yes, but you have a plate of food to eat.  I don’t.”

Another friend shrugs his shoulders and says, “So eat some bread to tide you over.”  Joshua explains, “That may temporarily satisfy me, but what I ordered is more nourishing.”

The girl next to him rolls her eyes and sneers, “Didn’t you just eat lunch a few hours ago?”  Joshua looks over at her bountiful plate and says, “I did, as you may have too.  Can’t we both eat?”

One friend looks sympathetically at Joshua and pushes her plate across the table saying, “Here, you can have my dinner.”  He replies, “I appreciate the gesture, but I’m not asking to eat your dinner.  I want the food I ordered.”

She cuts her meal in half and insists, “Then at least eat some.”  Joshua says, “Thank you, but that’s really not enough food for either of us.  If we split it then we’ll both leave the restaurant hungry.  I just want my own—“

Someone cuts Joshua off mid-sentence and bellows, “This service is OUTRAGEOUS!  How can we just sit here doing nothing?  I’m going back to the kitchen and demanding they fire that server!”  Joshua gently places a hand on his friend’s arm.  “Please, I don’t want to get anyone fired.”  He continues with a chuckle, “Besides, then who will bring me my food?”

Another friend was no longer listening to Joshua, instead turning his attention to his smartphone to type a scathing review of the restaurant on Yelp.

The final friend looks Joshua in the eyes and asks, “Is there anything we can do to help you get the meal you ordered?”

Joshua smiles. “Thanks for asking.  Would you mind helping me get the server’s attention next time he walks by so I can ask if it’s on its way?”  The friend nods and waves a hand in the air, which catches the server’s attention immediately.  He quickly scurries to the table to apologize for the delay and fetches Joshua’s meal.  Within moments, they all have the dinners they ordered.


The reactions from Joshua’s friends represent fairly typical responses to campaigns that promote advocacy and equality for marginalized groups of people.  I have observed that unfortunately, there will likely always be a subset of people who don’t recognize the magnitude of a societal issue if it doesn’t apply to them.  Fortunately, more often than that I see well-intentioned people who want to support and facilitate positive change.  Sometimes people aren’t sure how to help.  They may pity targets of injustice rather than empower them.  This isn’t the most helpful approach because giving sympathy instead of showing empathy further ostracizes people who have felt victimized or demonized.  Other people get so excited about an issue that they speak on behalf of their allies as opposed to providing the underrepresented group with a platform to articulate their own fully capable voices in the way they want to be heard.  There are also folks who believe they can elicit change by arguing with strangers in the comments section of articles posted on Facebook .  Engaging in conversation can be a productive first step, but only if participants are as willing to listen as they are to speak, which is often not the case on those types of forums.  Thankfully, amidst all the conflicting messages, there is a group of people who recognize that even if they haven’t experienced a specific injustice firsthand, they validate that a problem exists and they want to learn how they can become part of the solution.

Which of these friends would you like to be?